I've been thinking again about creativity, and ways to increase inspiration. Partially because I feel I'm in a rut, but also because creativity is life, and, both for myself and society, the future depends on it. If I want to have a full and good life, I need to keep on that razor edge of experience and consciousness, to keep seeing and seeking the new. Same goes for society, which is lost in short-term thinking, staring at the ground one foot in front of itself as it charges toward a cliff.
So. I was thinking about how to induce the creative flow. Seems a hard thing, so often the muses seem to be erratic, unpredictable. How can one tap into this at will? There are tons of websites on this, which talk about special techniques you must pay to get, as well as more mundane things, like taking a walk, word association, "stop being so logical," and so on. I don't discount these techniques, by the way. Little tricks and exercises can be pretty helpful.
Take free writing. Set yourself a timer, or a set number of pages you will fill, and start writing. Start even, if you must, writing things like, "this is a really stupid exercise, because I have nothing to say, what a waste of time this will be..." Don't stop, don't edit, don't even really think, just keep the pen (or typing) going. Later you go back and cherry-pick the good, the interesting bits. This has worked for me; both in the initial writing, out of which I have dug out some gold, as well in a more long-term sense, by simply steering my mind into more receptive territory, helping to lift me out of the creative doldrums in general.
Another thing I know, is that creativity springs, I'm sure of this, at least in part from plenty of "staring into space" time. That is, not consuming or absorbing information and stimuli, but just doing nothing, letting your mind roam. I know that the last few months I've filled much of my free time with TV, books, internet, and so forth, and consequently have hardly written a line, and this blog has fallen into cobwebs and dust, comparatively speaking.
The consumption has its uses and importance, of course. Sort of like pre-loading ideas and images before a mushroom trip; it is the material with which the insights build themselves. You can't build a house without the wood and brick. But you also need the Plan. And in creative endeavors, that equates to Inspiration. A way for those building blocks to come together. The way a shaman would throw his bones, and in their random fall could read the future. You need that element of freedom, to let the materials assemble themselves into your work. Thus, the Plan is found by drifting freely.
Watch this TED video on the elusive creative genius. Gilbert talks about an anecdote of Tom Waits, who gets inspiration once while he was driving. The anecdote is funny and interesting, but you can see here what I'm talking about too. Driving is an automatic thing, largely. We don't have to think too much about the tasks, most of the time; and so the mind is free to roam. Assuming, of course, the radio is off and you're alone. It is not at all strange that Waits had a new song pop into his head at such a moment. The same is true on the toilet, when (assuming your bowels are functioning right) you're relaxed, and your mind unoccupied.
I also came across this brilliant article in Scientific American, titled "An Easy Way to Increase Creativity." It talks about "psychological distance:
...anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person's perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely.
There are a series of experiments discussed, which I find very interesting and a fresh approach, for me at least, and something I aim to try. It's fascinating, though maybe obvious... this idea that simply by reframing a problem, you can suddenly get more insights. Pretend you are trying to solve it a year from now, or in a distant city, or even that the problem itself is far less probable. It's a cliche, putting yourself in another man's shoes, but I never thought of using that for creative purposes; I always took it at face value, a lesson in tolerance, empathy and understanding.
Lastly, drugs work. I mentioned mushrooms. I've never done them, but I believe psychedelics are powerful tools for creativity. A lot of visionary art has come as a result of their use. So is marijuana, alcohol, and caffeine. These I've sampled, and except for caffeine, they rarely produce any amazing works while one is actually under the influence. Alcohol relaxes inhibitions, and used moderately may loosen up your writers block, but the line is easy to cross into idiotic drunken ramblings. Caffeine makes you productive as hell, thus, there's more chance that something good will flow out. Cannabis, however, I found the most useful. It can help knock you out of your mental habits, into new frames of seeing things. And creativity is all about seeing. Not just visually, no; I mean really contacting experience with clarity.
This ties back to "staring into space" time. A Zen sort of method, although I'm not necessarily talking about meditation. Meditation does help, of course, for me at least; the clarity of observation it brings is what I'm talking about. It helps temper my habit to wallow in my prejudices and habitual understanding, helping me to see things not as I am, but as they are. But, ideas and thoughts are worthwhile too, and sometimes it is right to let yourself follow them, rather than practicing at clarity and emptiness. It's a different state of consciousness than pure meditation, but it is a relative, and I think the two interact and commingle.